On a recent tour of Pacifica, a longtime resident drove down Palmetto Avenue and stated flatly, “This is where our downtown will be.” Frankly, it was hard to envision the kind of downtown that characterizes other Peninsula cities just a few miles to the east.
That is, until you look at the city’s Specific Plan for the Sharp Park Neighborhood, which is defined as the Palmetto Avenue corridor stretching from Belle Vista Avenue on the north to Claredon Road on the south and extending to the coastline on the west and Eureka Square on the east.
If what you see on
the ground now is sort of a mishmash overlaid with some recent
streetscape improvements, the vision for the future is breathtaking. The avenue’s aging piecemeal building inventory would be replaced by new construction that combines housing with the sorts of uses that encourage people to come downtown.
Of course, planning is one thing. Making it happen is something else entirely and would require public and private investment over many years.
It is easy to be jaded about municipal planning efforts like these, coming as they inevitably do with graphics indicating a future
decades from now. To the casual observer, these computerized exercises — like those available at planpacifica.org — can seem like a game. Digital artist renderings reveal construction that perfectly comports to a professional planner’s vision. Cartoonish people stroll streets that happily teem with bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians who always march through provided crosswalks and signal their every turn. At this point in the process, efforts like the Sharp Park
plan always look great.
But look closer at the plan that began taking shape late last year. The graphics included in the current iteration of this specific plan, which is being done in conjunction with a General Plan and Local Coastal Program update, reveal an attention to detail that bodes well for what could finally, one day, be a real downtown center. There is not only general support for active ground-floor uses, but also detailed thought given to the way multi-story buildings might tier away from the street to create a human scale and maintain light and privacy at various levels. It envisions a “complete neighborhood” that isn’t merely housing or retail. It suggests raising the city’s 35-foot height limit to increase potential for housing. One of the plan’s stated guiding principles is an appreciation for the coastal vibe and the area’s vibrant history. This isn’t planning in a vacuum; it’s planning specifically in Pacifica.
Of course, any such effort is complicated by sea level rise and climate change. Planners are cognizant of the need for “coastal resiliency” and suggest that their efforts will dovetail with ongoing seawall discussions and other efforts to maintain the integrity of the city’s western face.
None of this is set in stone. On Tuesday night, the City Council was holding a special meeting to discuss the progress thus far. You can sign up for updates by visiting planpacifica.org/subscribe. The plan will be better for your involvement. And the graphics are cool as well.
— Clay Lambert